May 1, 2008

ESP is a well-known manufacturer of utility locks, specialty hardware and key blanks. A few years ago ESP was purchased by Hudson Lock Company. This purchase did not change the fundamental direction of ESP which continues to expand its product lines and key blank selections in support of the locksmith industry.

Jeff Conforti, national sales manager for ESP, has given Locksmith Ledger an opportunity to test a new line of ESP key machines (Photos 1, 2 and 3). These are very economical imported key machines. Words like economical and imported can sometimes be connected with poor quality and/or inaccurate key duplication. ESP allowed us an extended amount of time to put two of the machines through some tests to see how they would perform.


The first noticeable feature on this key machine is that the cutter blade is directly attached to the motor shaft (photo 4). No drive belt means one less part needing periodic adjusting or replacing plus no possible slippage between belt and pulley.

Vise jaws are the heart of any key machine. Top and bottom jaw parts on the ESP automatic fit snugly together forming a firm holding surface during key duplication. The two-way jaws can be revolved 180 degrees. One side of the jaw contains top and bottom ‘fingers’ to hold double-sided keys by their central grooves. Jaw fingers keep the key blank parallel while cutting the second side of a double-sided key.
Vise jaws in our test machine did not include a gauge for aligning tip stop keys. This was brought to the attention of ESP and it is our understanding that subsequent automatic duplicator models will have tip stop gauges on both the right and left sides of the jaws.   

Flat sides on the second side of the jaw are designed to hold a variety of single-sided keys. Jaw dimensions are adequate for holding most large house keys or smaller mailbox or padlock keys without the need for secondary shims.
A unique cutter blade is included with the ESP machine. The cutter only has teeth on one side of the blade. The second side is completely smooth and flat which forms a surface for aligning keys for duplication. ESP will offer two additional optional cutter blades for this machine. You may want to choose either a hardened steel or carbide blade depending on the amount of keys being cut on a daily basis.  


Key machine must be turned off during the following steps.

The vise carriage is spring-loaded. Begin by tilting the vise jaw to an approximate 45-degree angle and then moving the carriage to the left side of the machine. Stops built into the machine will then hold the carriage on a 45-degree angle while the original key and new key blank are installed in the vise jaws. Move each key blank to the right until the key blank shoulders are closely aligned with the left side of the vise jaw. Loosely tighten the key blanks in place.

Move the carriage to the right and align the key blank shoulder against the smooth side of the cutter blade. Note: Carriage is spring loaded. Maintain holding pressure while moving vise carriage to prevent the vise jaw or key blank from striking against the cutter blade. Once the key blank is aligned with the smooth side of the cutter blade, loosen the owner’s key and move it against the side of the key guide (tracer). Tighten both keys firmly in preparation for duplication.

The automatic mechanism and the cutter blade are both designed to complete the key cutting procedure by using one ‘pass’ across the key blank. Repetitive key cutting trials with large keys such as Kwikset and smaller vehicle key blanks produced accurate, operational duplicates. If you are cutting keys with heavier stock, such as Weiser, it may be necessary to make an additional ‘pass’ across the key to assure complete removal of material on the new key. This additional step will only add a few seconds to the key cutting procedure.

Micro switches control the cutting cycle. A push button located on front of the machine is used to begin the cutting cycle and the micro switches then end the cycle when the key cutting pass is completed. As an added touch, a sign on the front of the machine helps attract business while also acting as a shield to help prevent wandering key shavings. A drawer located at the front of the machine does double duty as a holder for accessories and a catching area for key shavings. 

Another unique feature is the hand crank located on the right side of the machine. The crankshaft can be set either at an inward or outward position. When moved to the outward position, the crankshaft is disconnected from the gear system and the machine operates as an automatic duplicator.

When the hand crank is moved inward, the crankshaft is directly connected to the motor shaft by a large gear. Slow turning of the crank handle revolves the cutter blade at a high RPM due to the gear ratio. The automatic feature if the machine is still operational. Keys can be quickly duplicated even when electricity is not available.


A new type of lock system was introduced by Mercedes in the late 1970s. Known as sidewinder keys, these blanks require a special machine to mill away the side of the key while the middle portion of the blank remains untouched. Sidewinder keys initially were in limited use on some luxury models but the keys are now becoming more commonplace. 2008 vehicles including Subaru Impreza, Pontiac G8 and Saturn Astra will be using sidewinder key systems. Add previous models such as Honda, Acura, Kia Amanti, Hyundai Azera, Mazda Millenia, Chrysler Crossfire, Pontiac GTO, BMW, Mini-Cooper, Mercedes, Lexus, Volvo, VW, Porsche, Saab plus Range Rover and suddenly there is good reason for owning a sidewinder key duplicating machine. Even some GM trucks are rumored to be considering the use of sidewinder keys for 2009 models.

The ESP Multi-Function duplicator can basically duplicate three types of keys: tubular, sidewinder, dimple type keys.
A primary reason for owning the ESP Multi-Function machine is for duplicating sidewinder keys. Sidewinders come in several sizes and can use either internal or external milling systems. ESP furnishes four different diameter cutters and tracer pins (.078, .118, .157 and .197). Manually run each tracer pin against the key cuts to determine the largest diameter cutter you can use while still following the exact contour of the original key cuts.

Sidewinder keys can use either a shoulder or tip stop. Install shoulder stop keys directly into the vise jaws and set the shoulder against the jaw before tightening in place (photo 8). There are three grooves milled into each vise jaw. A stop block accessory is furnished. Insert the stop block in one of the three grooves and then insert the tip-stop type key blank tip against the stop block before tightening the blank in place (photo 9). Remove the stop block before starting key duplication.

The final step before duplication is to set the cutter depth. Machine instructions recommend laying a business card between the original key and the tracer pin. Loosen both the cutter and tracer pin, then bring the cutter down far enough to touch an uncut portion of the original key. Tighten the cutter in place. Move the tracer pin downward until it is touching the business card, then tighten the tracer in place. The cutter should then be set approximately .002 deeper than the tracer.

Remove the business card and move the cutter down against the cutout area of the original key. Turn a knurled knob on the left side of the machine to keep the cutter at this depth.
Note: When viewed from above, the cutter is rotating in a clockwise direction. It is important to move the tracer pin around the original key in a counter-clockwise direction so the sharp edge of the cutter can cut into the blank. Moving the tracer in the opposite (wrong) direction can damage the cutter.

Most sidewinder keys in use today also contain transponder coding. Even if you do not have the equipment necessary to complete the programming, you may be able to make arrangements with several local new car dealers to duplicate the keys while they can do the final programming.

Tubular keys of just about any diameter can be duplicated. A special section of each vise jaw has openings for holding tubular keys in a vertical position. A leveling bar which is fastened to the jaw assembly can be rotated above each tubular key. Tubular keys are then pushed upward against the leveling bar and tightened in position. This assures that the new blank and original key are being held at the same height. With the machine turned off, the tracer pin is moved downward into one of the cuts of the original key. A plate locking screw is then used to tighten the horizontal movement of the jaw assembly. Once set, the machine is turned on and the depth cut is made. The machine is then turned off and the same setting procedure is used for each subsequent cut position on the key.
Two types of dimple keys can be duplicated. A triangular jig accessory is used to set the correct angle when duplicating rod shaped keys requiring dimples. Flat style dimple keys can be held in the machine in the same manner as sidewinder keys.

A third machine is capable of manually duplicating double and single sided keys plus flat steel keys. A special adaptor allows the duplication of Abloy-style keys. We were not able to run tests on this machine, but the two other machines operated easily and accurately.

For more information contact you local ESP locksmith distributor or ESP Lock Products at: 800-434-8960.